This Wiltshire walk took us from the historic market town of Devizes, along a 13 mile stretch of canal to the pretty riverside town of Bradford on Avon. Make sure you didn’t miss our first walk on the Kennet & Avon from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon. Public transport arrangements facilitated doing this stretch ‘backward’; Devizes doesn’t have a train station so, aiming to keep this a car-free walk, we arrived in Devizes on a bus from Swindon.
Bradford has a train station from which Bath and Bristol are in easy reach by rail where connecting trains can be sought to most major towns and cities. Although this meant rising early to ensure we began the walk at a reasonable time, the journey itself was worth taking for the views alone; the route runs straight through the middle of the North Wessex Downs (AONB) making it a joy to simply look out of the windows on the way there.
Before we reached our destination we were treated to a panorama of wild fields, rolling hills and peaceful villages. We even passed through the World Heritage Site of Avebury and its mysterious standing stones, before the bus dropped us off just by the canal on the North-West side of Devizes.
As we set off towards Bradford on Avon, the sun emerged to give the canal a pleasant morning haze. We walked the towpath admiring the bridges and banks.
We had read a lot about Devizes and particularly its locks before coming here and it quickly became apparent why. Early on the waters were brightened by the colours of narrowboats moored at Devizes Wharf, the first point of interest on the walk. Once used as an unloading point for barges carrying coal and timber, this now houses a Kennet and Avon Canal Trust visitor centre which offers a café, shop and also a departure point for canal boat trips.
Shortly after the wharf we came across our first lock of the journey; there were many more to come. At this point, the canal passes under the main road into Devizes so we had to cross the road bridge, then make our way under it on the opposite side to continue along the towpath. From here it wasn’t long before we encountered the famous Caen Hill Locks – a flight of 29 consecutive locks in the space of 2 ¾ miles, set on a steep incline, built to allow boats to continue their journey up the hill to Devizes.
The first six of them lead us out of Devizes; the canal was wide along this stretch and the towpath offered typically pleasant scenery.
After this section leaving Devizes itself, the incline becomes steeper downhill where the middle phase of Caen Hill Locks begins. At the top of the incline over a footbridge on the opposite side to the towpath is Caen Hill Café where teas, coffees and light snacks are served while customers can rest and enjoys the views.
The café marks the beginning of the second and most astonishing part of the Caen Hill Locks where sixteen locks follow each other in quick succession to allow boaters to navigate the steepest part of the incline. The view from the top is nothing short of stunning. As we descended we couldn’t help but admire this incredible feat of engineering, practical and beautiful in its design. You will recognise the picture below as we chose it for the home page. It could be the most outstanding feature of any canal we have seen so far in our travels.
Each set of lock gates was followed by an extended ‘pound’ to ensure there is enough water between each lock to allow them to completely fill and, hence, that the whole system can work. These sixteen locks at the heart of Caen Hill Locks are designed as a ‘scheduled monument’ on the National Heritage List for England which lists many sites that are protected by legislation (Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979) that punishes damage or unauthorised change to them alongside listed buildings, historical battlefields, protected gardens and other ‘nationally important’ historical sites.
At the bottom of the flight of locks you pass the remaining seven locks that are stretched out across 3/4 mile, passing Foxhangers Bridge Lock and Foxhangers Wharf Lock and the enviously beautiful Foxhangers Cottage and its surrounding grounds.
The walk continues on the next page…